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Keating signs massive health care bill

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A massive health care bill designed to help nursing homes, financially troubled hospitals and needy Oklahomans was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Frank Keating.

The Oklahoma 2001 Healthcare Initiative uses $38.9 million in state funds, mostly from the national tobacco settlement, to attract about $92 million in federal money.

"This legislation is a major step toward ensuring that Oklahomans receive proper health care, especially those who are most in need," Keating said.

The bill, authored by House Speaker Loyd Benson and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, increases Medicaid hospital reimbursement rates and establishes a $4 per-patient-per-day provider fee for nursing homes.

Benson, D-Frederick, said its enactment is one of the highlights of his 17-year legislative career. He said the tobacco settlement gave leaders "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to attack the state's health care problems.

Benson said the plan focuses on the most vulnerable Oklahomans --the elderly and about 275,000 children who depend in Medicaid.

It will lead to about $300 million being pumped into the state economy, he said.

Keating said it will improve nursing home care and increase oversight.

"The increased funding will allow nursing homes to boost wages and add staff, as well as enable the Health Department to hire additional nursing home operators and the state Department of Human Services to hire 10 additional nursing home facility client advocates -- all of which adds accountability to the system," the governor said.

Passage of the measure came after a bribery scandal involving a high-level state Health Department official and a nursing home operator.

The bill makes it a felony for any Health Department worker to "willfully or knowingly" accept anything of value in return for securing or soliciting patients for a nursing home.

Another provision bars Health Department employees from notifying a nursing home in advance of an unannounced inspection.
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